making space for all god’s children

 

Becoming New Normal as the Church

The COVID 19 virus
has posed questions
for church gatherings.
It has forced upon us
the Zoom meetings
and YouTube services
amongst our alternative
manner of worship
and our fellowship ways.

Would it be better
to ask what qualities
these have brought to our exchanges,
than to ask if we need buildings anymore?

I think YouTube services
have given us
a more distant exchange.
People of the congregation
are more distant,
and yet,
often more people are ‘present’.

It can be said
this is good
because more people
hear the Word.

It is true that it is hard
to note emotional impact,
and whether a ‘disciple’ response
has been elicited.

Yet, this has its place.
Yet it can resemble
the ‘going to church’
that I remember
as a child in the 1950’s,
but with greater social distance.

The Zoom gatherings,
with so-called
‘Break-out groups’,
resemble more
‘the House Group’
and also
‘the small religious
community’ ideal.

Ironically,
the medium and the distance,
can create
an intimacy
through a truth telling;
facilitated by the boldness from
not being in the same room.

If such an atmosphere
could be perpetuated
in the future, we could begin
to address what we want
‘the new normal’ for the church to be

The medium has helped
these possibilities.
However, I want to indicate something about content and the message.

Partly, as a hint about
what of the Old Normal
we might want to challenge.
And also, partly about the challenge
Of the New Normal,
we would like to foster.

My perspective

My perspective
is made up of impressions
that result from day to day conversations rather than
from a systematic sociological enquiry.
It is such impressions
that make up the cultural exchanges
of every day conversation.
I belong to the ‘Making Space Community’
in the South Wales Valleys.
Part of that community is trying to build a residential component within it.

The whole of the community is about living out the pattern of life
that the community has developed.
The whole community aspires
to a way of life
that reflects certain attitudes.

We consider ourselves among many groups who consider themselves
as ‘Intentional Communities of Disciples’.

The following comments are my own.
I have wanted to see what subversive attitudes we are expressing
as a Christian response
to the assertion
that we cannot go back
to the old normal again.

What, of what we do,
enables and sustains
the growing of The New Normal,
that many may not have necessarily put words to, but are seeking to grasp.

What is it about intentional communities of disciples that supports this endeavour?

Intentional
‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’

When good intentions
are used as an excuse
for having done nothing
we rightly reserve Judgement
about the failure to respond
to a particular situation.
When planning an intervention
we are often told about
unintended consequences.
It sometimes seems that every time
we seek a solution to a difficulty,
we seem to create another one.
It may have been an oversight,
or just plain unpredictable.

It is easy to see why
much weight is given
to those who can achieve an outcome rather than fail.

It may seem to many of us
That it is better to do nothing
and avoid failure.
Keep your head down.

Credibility is often ascribed
to those who do and succeed.
Those who intend
but do not achieve
are often made out to lack credibility.
One of the changes I want to see
in The New Normal
is a change of attitude.
The valuing of good intentions –
even when they fail,
especially when they fail.

Good intentions carry with them:
Good reasons to try
A commitment to change
The freedom to aspire
These are worth hearing about.

Intention is to be valued.

Community

‘Longing to be with’
is how I like to think of Belonging,
‘Belonging with’
is a way of thinking
about community.
We long to be with a lover
or those we consider
to be our beloved ones.

We also long to be
with people whose principles
are those to which we aspire.

They provide support
and affirmation of ideas.
But more so,
they support us
in what we would like
to become.

These ways in which we
want to ‘belong with’,
stand in contrast to ‘belonging to’,
and possession.

Community can be about
shared ownership perhaps;
but ‘belonging with’
might want to
describe possessions
as gifts to be shared.

A shift from
possessive individualism
to community
would be seen as a shift
from private ownership,
or belongings,
toward a ‘belonging with.’

Relational rather than functional.

We often hear about
the need for personal accountability.
Even our democracy
is riddled by a blame culture
rather than the seeking
of the common good.

It is right that selfish advantage
and selfish profit
should be exposed,
and steps taken
to restore the common good.
What seems to be lacking
are strong public mechanisms
for public forgiveness.

Maybe it is no wonder
we see little opportunity taken
for public penitence,
especially for public corporations
or collective entities.
Community is an attitude
as well as a practical expression of life:
the valuing of togetherness.

Belonging with,
and communal responsibility,
are an important part of
the New Normal we desire.

It is through the voices
of the lonely and marginal
that God’s desire for community
is heard and lived the loudest.

Disciples

In the Christian context
‘disciples’ are followers of Jesus.
Originally it referred to the twelve
in the gospel accounts.
Today one may think of the
baptised in Christ as followers.

‘Following’ is a strong theme
throughout the Bible.
In contrast
‘leadership’ is a theme that is
constantly under prophetic scrutiny.
Often one thinks of leaders
as under suspicion, such as Kings, Shepherds, and Priests,
especially if they exercise power,
control, and authority.

Church leaders are still often viewed,
and are often expected to behave
as organisational managers,
rather than guardians of the faith.

If they do comment on social matters some will tell them to keep out of political/social issues and
to get on with caring for
the people of their own organisation.

It seems to me
The more an issue is strongly
about Justice and new life,
the more this seems to be the case.

Our current social climate
is one that emphasises ‘leaders’
and their accountability.
Even church concerns about
training for ministry,
sometimes cloud the true purposes
of priestly and diaconal ministry.
Furthermore, they distort ministerial roles by demanding
organisational function
before prophetic imagination.

Fellowship is an attitude.
Following Jesus Christ
is a discernment and an invitation
to imaginative obedience.
It is more than just keeping the rules.

It is an attitude of seeking God
and ‘answering to that of God in everyone’; as George Fox said.
It is about inspiration, sometimes even spontaneity; but also, about discipline.

We learn from each other.
By living together maybe.
Our discipline is honed
by an attitude of observing one another, making a ready analysis,
and offering our learning for scrutiny.

Discipline is more about learning
than it is about teaching
in my own hopes
for the new normal.

It is easy to interpret fellowship
in a personal and
individualised sense.

The challenge is also to find mechanisms to be disciples together,
with groups and bodies who
live across cultural
and economic boundaries.

Finding shared accountability
and processes is not to be abandoned.

Recent times.

When it comes to social justice issues
I still hear the words
‘Equality, Liberty, and Fraternity.’
Echos from a different age.
I sense we need a new slant.

For many, we adjust ‘equality’
to ‘equality of opportunity’.
This means we all have a way
to achievement and advancement.
We can all climb the ladder,
taking care not to tread
on the fingers of the people behind us.
In fact, this is not possible
and it is often deemed better
to hold people back
for their own good.

Achievement and advancement
become competitive activities
that are rated and graded.
Freedom has become
the right to choose.
Individual choice and action become
the picture of liberty.

The fight for ‘freedom together’
has been eroded.
Trades unions, building societies,
friendly societies, cooperatives,
have largely given way
to sole traders, banks, and partnerships.
In the charity market even,
the promotion of credit unions
has largely prevailed
over the cooperative.
It would seem that with a few notable exceptions, the individual has prevailed over the community.

Community and fraternity
speak togetherness and common interests.
I do not want to be distracted
by my desire to find a gender-neutral word for fraternity when the point I am trying to make is one of common ‘inter esse’

The relationship as disciples,
suggests that there is
a common interest
in the person of Jesus Christ.
This interest is as followers
and an interest in working out
what this means with each other.
I refer to a relational endeavour
where each person is able to initiate ‘leadership behaviour’ from time to time depending on skills sets, diplomacy,
or any other factors
that may be required in any situation.

The recognition that
expertise, charisma and personality
all need to be held in check by each other,
and leadership needs to be counted
as servant to the community
and not the other way around.
The common understanding is that
The Lord is our shepherd
and we are a flock.
‘Intentional communities of disciples’
speaks clearly to adjust the ways
we have corrupted
the visionary and revolutionary slogan of ‘Equality, Liberty, and Fraternity.’

The Making Space
for all God’s children.

Just as the Evangelical Counsels of Obedience, Celibacy and Poverty
stood, and still stand,
as a counter cultural witness
to the powerful and
their dominance in our world,
‘intentional communities of disciples’
help us to face another challenge.
The old normal takes for granted
the importance of
the competitive lure of achievement,
the self-pre-occupying perspective of individualism,
and the assumption that leadership
is of a higher status and worth.
The ‘intentional communities of disciples’, whether of old or new monastics,
ashram communities, settlements,
basic or missional communities,
and many others,
bring attitudes that equip ourselves,
and one another, for a new normal.
Whilst the residential communities are
a powerful witness to these aspirations, the underlying attitudes are far wider.
They are for the making space
for all God’s children.

Joe Hasler    Feast of St James 2020